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Marriage Is a Social Construction Explore More Content

What is marriage?  There are only two possible kinds of answers to this question:  Either marriage and family have a fixed, natural purpose (a natural “teleology”) or they do not.  If not, marriage is some kind of social construction, an invention of culture like knickers or bow ties, fashions that change with the times. Marriages defined by convention can be anything culture defines them to be.  No particular detail is essential.  This, at least, is the argument of the same-sex marriage advocacy.

 It is not possible, however, that marriage is a social construction.  Here’s why.

Columnist Dennis Prager has observed, “Every higher civilization has defined marriage as an institution joining members of the opposite sex.”  I agree with Prager’s position on marriage, though I take exception with one of his words.

I don't think marriage has been defined by cultures.  Rather, I think it has been described by them.  The difference in terms is significant.  If marriage is defined by culture, then it is merely a construction that culture is free to change when it desires.  The definition may have been stable for millennia, yet it is still a convention and therefore subject to alteration.  This is, in fact, the argument of the those in favor of same-sex marriage.

The truth is, it is not culture that constructs marriages or the families that marriages begin.  Rather, it is the other way around:  Marriage and family construct culture.  As the building blocks of civilization, families are logically prior to society as the parts are prior to the whole.  Bricks aren’t the result of the building because the building is made up of bricks.  You must have the first before you can get the second.

Societies are large groups of families.  Since families are constituent of culture, cultures cannot define them.  They merely observe their parts, as it were, and acknowledge what they have discovered.  Society then enacts laws not to create marriage and families according to arbitrary convention, but to protect that which already exists, being essential to the whole.

Why has civilization always characterized families as a union of men and women?  Because men and women are the natural source of the children that allow civilized culture to persist. This is the only understanding that makes sense of the definition, structure, legitimacy, identity, and government entitlements of marriage.  This alone answers our question, “What is marriage?” 

Marriage begins a family.  Families are the building blocks of cultures.  Families—and therefore marriages—are logically prior to culture.

Families may fail to produce children, either by choice or by accident, but they are about children, nonetheless. That’s why marriages have always been between men and women; they are the only ones, in the natural state, who have kids.

Government has no interest in affirming any other kind of relationship. It privileges and sustains marriage in order to protect the future of civilization.

That’s why same-sex marriage is radically revisionist.  It severs family from its roots, eviscerates marriage of any normative content, and robs children of a mother and a father.  This must not happen.

Article | Christianity & Culture, Ethics
Mar 31, 2013
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